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A while back, we pointed out how terms like "geek" and "nerd" had become meaningless, since everything that used to be a geek hobby is now everyone's hobby. We went from a time when only greasy-haired dorks knew how to work a computer to an era when every backward-cap-wearing jock has a smartphone in his pocket. But I think all of this is meaningless to anyone under 25, because they don't really remember what it was like before.

So gather 'round, kids, while I explain in my crackly old man voice how things used to be for those of us who had geeky hobbies. And those of you old enough to remember, try to keep the post-traumatic stress tremors from hitting you too hard.

Liking Superheroes Used to Mean You Were a Little Kid, or an Awkward Dork


What It's Like Now

At the current rate, by 2017, 100 percent of Hollywood movies will feature at least one superhero. It's not that comics geekdom has invaded the mainstream, it's that it has carpet bombed everything else out of existence. They won't even greenlight a blockbuster anymore unless the hero can survive a jump off the roof of a building, landing on one knee with his head pointed straight down, a sprawled hand perfectly centered in front of him.

But It Wasn't Always Like That

I graduated high school in 1992. The first blockbuster Batman movie came out in 1989. Before that, for my entire time in grade school, superhero movies were direct-to-video bullshit. That same year Batman came out, a Punisher movie starring Dolph Lundgren went direct to VHS, and as late as 1994 the Fantastic Four was the subject of a zero-budget knockoff by Roger Corman. There was a reason studios didn't want to invest; it's hard to overstate the stigma that was attached to it. Comics fans were the equivalent of guys who obsess over anime porn today.

"No, I got that part. What do I type in to see her blow a sperm whale?"

I vividly remember a time when, if you showed your love of a superhero by wearing a T-shirt with their logo on it, or you carried around comic books ... hell, even having an open discussion in public about who had the best superpowers, you were instantly cast into social purgatory. "You're a teenager now, damn it! You're supposed to be talking about real-life cheerleaders' asses behind their backs, not comparing Dr. Jean Grey's fluctuating boob size from artist to artist! Grow up, man!"

So sticking by the hobby actually meant something back then -- the world didn't make it easy. Since there were so few people who got into comic books on any serious level -- or who would openly admit it, at least -- you were excluded from most conversations, whether it was intentional or not. It wasn't like now, where even the anime porn lovers can find a hundred thousand like-minded fans on 4chan. There was no Internet, and the odds of running into another comic book lover was nil (especially in a small town like mine, where there was no comic book shop within hours).

Just hours and hours of playing games of "Grass Bucket Dodge Cow."

So, you'd withdraw from all the social circles. You had nothing to talk about. People didn't understand you, and vice versa, so your natural motion was to drift apart until you accidentally found other comics fans floating through your social vacuum, maybe when you went off to college. It's why (even today, though not as prominent as it was back then) there is a core group of people who hang out at comic book shops, and they're not pressured to leave, even though it's pretty obvious they're not going to buy anything. It's their church. The weekly gathering of like-minded people. Their safe house. And if they're in their 30s or older, they remember what it used to be like.

That stereotype of the shy comic book nerd who can't get a date? It wasn't just a lighthearted joke played off in some quirky teen movie. In the teenage years, where the most important thing on most kids' minds is becoming an adult, the last thing they want to do is set back their progress by dating an immature child. And that's how assholes saw the superhero geeks: stuck in perpetual adolescence. It would literally get you beaten. Like, actual physical beatings. I saw it happen.

"I'm going to grow up to be an unemployed fuckhead with a criminal record!"

But now? When I tell people that I'm not seeing the new Dark Knight movie because I couldn't give less of a shit about Batman, I'm the outcast. They act like I just told them that I paid the local police to look the other way while I fist fought their children. They're genuinely shocked that I could possibly think that, and offended that I would have the nerve to make fun of their stupid, stupid hero. Seriously, fuck Batman.

Being a Sci-Fi Fan Used to Be for Nerds


What It's Like Now

When talking about nerdy things done by nerdy people in their oh-so-wacky nerdy lives, Doctor Who gets slung around more often than a spent dick at a bukkake convention. It seems to be one of the last sci-fi franchises with any underground street cred. But guess what, a huge budget Doctor Who movie is inevitable. These are the days when Star Trek movies get budgets of more than $150 million. Holy shit, how times have fucking changed.

But It Wasn't Always Like That

The original Star Trek TV show got canceled in 1969 -- it lasted three seasons. It would take 10 years to get the first movie made, because during that time, the studio didn't think any sci-fi film other than Star Wars could make money. That same year it came out, the original Battlestar Galactica got canceled after one season. Sci-fi was either big, family-friendly Spielberg blockbusters (E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind) or niche stuff for nerds with taped-up glasses.

"Well, one thing I know for sure, Starbuck will always be known as a man, no matter what, through all of history."

And if you cared too much about it, like if you owned your own Starfleet uniform, you hid that shit like a fetish. You were flat out persecuted for your taste in entertainment, and I don't mean that you were just made fun of. You got bullied, beaten up, or just trolled out of existence. Not in Internet chat rooms like today, where your real identity is hidden under a ridiculous handle like "b0n3r_whip69xxx." But right out in the real-life public where everyone you know could see your humiliation. There was no logout option when you found yourself dangling from a stop sign by your underwear, your Captain Kirk outfit in shreds at your feet and your asshole throbbing from the cotton burn.

That was a tag that was placed on you forever. Every person you asked out after that, every friend you tried to make, every party you wanted to attend -- they all knew that hanging out with you was social poison. People avoided you like the plague, and all you could do was go about your day as if it didn't bother you.

"She needs to go out with her not-brother Luke, and stay away from Han. Never trust a man who shoots first."

It was weird, because there was certainly sci-fi in the mainstream -- but spending too much time thinking or talking about it (instead of, say, cars or sports or sex) made people hate you, stomping that shit out like a cigarette butt as their dad rounded the corner. You wear a costume to a convention? You're a child living in a fantasy world, and you need some sense beaten back into you. You learn a made-up language from the show's universe? You're a fucking dead man.

When you put all of that together, you get what we have now: Kids holding up their love for something and claiming that they are nerdy. To them, "nerd" equals "I like this thing." To us, it meant, "Keep the plastic Spock ears in a shoebox under the bed."

I keep it under the restraining orders and behind the dildos.

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PC Gaming Was for Weird, Secluded Hobbyists


What It's Like Now

There are no non-gamers left. Your grandma plays Angry Birds. Making fun of someone for playing games is like making fun of someone for listening to music. At best we can mock people for the type of game they like. Fans of shooters make fun of Warcraft players. Warcraft players make fun of LARPers.

But It Wasn't Always Like That

A while back, I mocked how TV shows were still portraying gamers as lonely basement dwellers as recently as a few years ago, despite everyday life proving that there aren't enough basements in the world for that to be true anymore. Well, the reason those writers thought that is because they were in their 40s and grew up in a time when it was true. Go rent a copy of the 1983 Matthew Broderick movie WarGames to see what I mean. Notice how PC gaming is treated like fucking witchcraft. The main character can perform his acts of gaming wizardry thanks to a room-sized setup that completely dominates his life. And from there, he uses his gaming to accidentally trigger World War III.

"Sir, it's detected my lunch -- what do I do?" "That's not what it says, Chad."

At the time that movie was made, not even 5 percent of homes had a PC at all -- they were gadgets for hobbyists, like people who own those motorized spin-fuck chairs now. When I graduated high school, it was still only about 20 percent. And of those people, only a fraction played games.

Consoles were more common, but even they were expensive. And I mean "rob your goddamn grandmother to buy one" expensive. Even back in 1977, the Atari 2600 was launched at $200. Which, when adjusted for the economic changes and inflation, would be half a million dollars in today's money (I don't know much about money -- but it would be a lot is what I'm saying).

It's about $720. -Ed.

"This many!"

So in the eyes of our peers, we were spending ridiculous amounts of money for this frivolous, useless, mind-numbing machine so that we could waste time instead of doing dick things with boob creatures. And for that, you were considered a social outcast freak who deserved to be punished with constant ridicule and knuckles.

But that was nothing compared to the PC gamers. They were hardcore -- I'm not talking about Doom here, I'm talking about the era before that, when adventure games like Space Quest dominated, full of puzzles that just assumed you had a Ph.D. in something (because they knew that if you owned your own computer, you probably fucking did).

Oh, and they also assumed you were male, because you probably were. And the more you played, the less time you were spending with girls. Society fucking hated that.

"Boo! We boo your genital-related priorities!"

Now, it's just really hard to ridicule someone for their hobbies when you know that 80 million people own a copy of Wii Sports.

Collecting Things Meant You Were Obsessive and Crazy


What It's Like Now

I was watching an episode of Pawn Stars the other day where a guy was getting married and was forced to sell his Star Trek action figure memorabilia to help pay for his wedding. His entire car was loaded with hundreds of boxes, and he had spent years getting them signed by the original actors. Everything about the negotiation was what you'd expect, but one thing really stood out for me: The tactic that the pawn guy used was telling the seller that it was "time to grow up" and "get rid of his toys."

And I thought, "That right there. That is the last true staple of nerd." Right there in the middle of an actual business transaction, that guy was treated like a stupid little child who couldn't let go of his stupid geeky interests.

He got $6,100 for it. I know you were wondering.

But It Wasn't Always Like That

When I was a kid, it wasn't so much about the contents of the collection as it was the level of obsession. If you had a sword hanging on your wall, it was considered a decoration. It was art. If you had an entire room dedicated to your collection of throwing stars, nunchucks, staves and ninja shrouds, there was something severely wrong with you.

Not just because you're loaded with enough weaponry to take out your local National Guard. Substitute in baseball cards, and you got the same reaction. They're in your closet, not hurting anyone. You have them neatly put into sleeves and packed away into anti-humidity boxes. But when you hit a certain age (usually late teens), you're fully expected to either sell that shit or pass it down to someone younger who can get some real use out of them. Like putting your Mark McGwire rookie card in the spokes of his bike so he can pretend it's making a motorcycle sound.

"Dude ... is that urine I smell?"

People who put that much time, money and effort into a collection that other people didn't understand were considered just as creepy and obsessed as someone who builds a hair shrine to Jodie Foster and fantasizes about dancing in her skin.

And God forbid you ever got into a verbal sparring match with anyone who knew about those hobbies. They'd bring that shit up as a weapon. "Hey, at least I didn't spend more money on little pieces of cardboard than I did on my fucking car. The one I use to take actual girls out on dates while you're at home, organizing your Pokemon by their elemental alignment."

They didn't see the time and effort. They saw "child obsessing over meaningless horseshit."

"Well, he looks like he'd be lightning, but he's actually water. You're a deceptive little guy, aren't you?"

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Fantasy Geeks Were the Lowest of the Low


What It's Like Now

Thanks to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, the teenagers of today grew up on magic as much as Happy Meals. And even if you don't play them yourself, you at least know someone who's been lost in games like World of Warcraft, Skyrim and Final Fantasy. Dragons and magic spells and elves.

But It Wasn't Always Like That

Take everything I said above about the stigma attached to comics or Star Trek fandom and multiply it times three. When I was in high school, if you were caught carrying around a Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual, you would have been laughed out of existence. The same if you were spotted reading any novel with a wizard on the cover. Fantasy culture was the lowest form of nerd culture back then, and if you enjoyed it, you kept that shit hidden at all costs.

"Dude, if you say you want to roll to see if you can fuck it, I'm punching you in the face, I'm serious."

We were seen as kids who immersed themselves in fantasies in which we were magic! We pretended to be romantically involved with elves, and that we were strong enough to slay mighty, evil, otherworldly beasts. To everyone else, we were detached from reality. It was the equivalent of being a furry today.

As teenagers and adults, pretending simply wasn't a permissible form of entertainment, which was exactly what the fantasy world demanded that we do. It wasn't until we were adults that we could finally stand up and say, "Yeah, sorry, but I work my ass off. I pay my taxes. And I'm as responsible as anyone you know. I'm buying tickets to go see Lord of the Rings because I read that shit when I was a kid, and it was fucking awesome." During that transition is when those walls started to break down, and when we saw the insane numbers being talked about in ticket sales, we realized that the world was full of people just like us. All hiding our nerdy interests out of fear of ridicule.

"Wait a minute. Show of hands -- who's been pretending their whole life that they didn't love this shit?"

It paid off for our kids, too, because they're now growing up in a world that is much more accepting of their likes and dislikes. Now don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that nerd persecution is over with. Start talking about your love of My Little Pony in real life, and there's a good chance I'm going to cram your head into a toilet and wedgie you so hard, you'll need asshole surgery to remove the underwear.

What I'm saying is that these things have a way of leveling out over time. And that even the most annoying, fucked up people on the planet (again, furries) have a chance of being accepted as normal on a long enough timescale. But until then, like what you want to like. It's your love of unconventional shit that makes awesome things happen when you're finally powerful enough to give bullies the finger and tell them to lick your asshole, and there isn't a goddamn thing they can do about it.

John has a Twitter. So fuck you.

For more Cheese, check out 5 Terrible Things You Can't Stop Your Children From Doing and 4 Awful Ways The Internet Is Tainting Everything Else.

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